Local schools have high hopes in girls soccer

Scarlett Walsh won a Catholic League championship as a player at Archbishop Ryan. Now she wants to win one as a coach. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Last year was a rough one for all of our teams.

The pandemic did a number on everyone’s season. Some teams played drastically reduced schedules while others didn’t play at all. So everyone will be learning on the fly this year.

But the talent and drive is there, and as always, Northeast Philly will be host to a lot of talent in three leagues.

Here is a quick breakdown of the teams:

CATHOLIC ACADEMIES LEAGUE

Nazareth Academy

The Pandas struggled last year, going 2-4-4, but that record is very deceptive. Nazareth played the bulk of its games against league foes, and that’s a daunting task. The Pandas held their own against some of the top teams in the area, and the goal will be to do the same again with a young squad.

With Kyleigh Joneic, Molly McCarrick, Karli Farrell and Kayla Kinniry, the Pandas should be very tough defensively.

Morgan Cheeseman will lead the midfield and Aly Kirby and Natalie Wartenby will look to provide the goals.

It’s tough being young in the Academies League, but coach Dan Bradley is ready to roll with his team.

“This is a great group of people,” Bradley said. “As always, we have set high expectations. We are young with eight freshmen on varsity, but with strong senior leadership they are coming along.

“We should be strong defensively and in goal. We have a lot of competition in the net, and we are deep in the back. Midfield and forwards are developing a strong chemistry, which is key to scoring goals. It will be a team effort to score goals.

“With a young team, patience is key. In a strong league like the AACA as well as a tough non-league schedule, that will be a challenge, but we are up for it. Looking forward to watching this group improve every day and playing our best, especially in late fall.”

Catholic League

Archbishop Ryan

The Ragdolls might have a new coach, but the goals remain the same. Scarlett Walsh, a former star player for the school, has replaced Jon Geist, and she has the talent to keep the team among the best in the Catholic League.

The Ragdolls will be led by seniors Kerri Gontz, Maddy Camillo, Kate Brace, Sierra Didonato and Rebecca Dalton. Juniors Chelsea Ritter and Carly Walsh will also be important players, as will sophomore Gianna Rivera.

Walsh is still playing with lineups, and she likes what she has to work with.

“We have many girls who can play a variety of different positions making our team very versatile,” said Walsh, whose team represented District 12 in the state playoffs last year. “We are very strong offensively and have a lot of depth in our attack. Along with our seniors, we have many young players stepping up into leadership roles and playing as if they’ve already experienced four years of high school soccer.

“We are already have our sights set on our first game and we’re excited to compete.”

Little Flower

It’s been a strange few months for the Sentinels. After opting out of the fall, Little Flower played in the spring, and was only able to schedule one game.

Then this summer, the school decided to make all of its coaches in the fall season reapply for their jobs. Longtime coach Markos Pittaoulis did and got it, and now he’s looking to get back to business.

This year, the Sentinels will depend on a defense that includes Maura Kelly, Hailey Cantz, Maura Carberry, Gabriella Turner, Shawna Durkin, Alexandra Farkas and Grace Burns.

Midfielders include Bella Torres, Hayden Johnson and Alexa Harr, and forwards will be Olivia Bradley and Rylee Sundermeier.

The team hasn’t played a lot of soccer together, so it might take some time to get on the same page, but Little Flower should again be among the tops in the Catholic League.

“I am looking forward to my new team and young players,” Pittaoulis said. “I think we will do well this year. We are all glad to get back to the game.”

St. Hubert

Nettie Graziosi-Hibbs has seen her team improve since she took over the program in 2019 and she believes this year the team will take yet another step forward.

The Bambies will be led by a defense that includes Olivia Ovington, Gabrielle Becker, Emily Gallagher and Samantha Kinniry.

Hubert’s will also have strong midfielders with Keara Pizzaro, Alex McGonigle, Mia Tobin and Lorenza D’Andrea working together.

Goals shouldn’t be hard to come by, either, with Gianna Grassifulli, Emma Drum, Madison Marron and Angelina Kinniry playing forward.

The Bambies are always competitive and this year they should take another step toward being contenders for the Catholic League championship.

“With a shortened season last year, we have a lot of eagerness to unleash,” Graziosi-Hibbs said. “The past two seasons we’ve had solid wins against some strong teams, in turn we’ve gained confidence in our ability to compete with the top teams. We are seeing that confidence translate onto the training field, which is improving our consistency. When we are able to consistently compete, great outcomes will follow.

“The combination of returners and transfers has given us more depth than we’ve had in a long time. We have scoring threats throughout our offense who can be the spark at any moment. We’ll be tough to deal with in the final third. Defensively, we are showing composure, though we aren’t afraid to get stuck in.”

PUBLIC LEAGUE

Franklin Towne Charter

The Warriors didn’t play last year, but the season before, they finished 17-0-1. The Warriors, under coach Deb Ounan, are always a threat to win the Public League, and this year is no different. It will be tough having missed a full year, but the talent is there.

The Warriors return Jenna Slavin, who was the team’s top scorer during the championship run. Also back is Delaney Maier, who will anchor the defense.

Obviously it will be a challenge, but Franklin Towne could end up winning the crown again.

“Franklin Towne is looking forward to welcoming two classes of new players to our team and integrating them into our program so everyone can play well together to be as competitive as possible,” Ounan said.

Samuel Fels

Building a program from scratch isn’t easy, but Kaeleigh Bowman is doing just that.

Obviously every day will be a learning experience for the Panthers, and the team could take some lumps early, but Bowman is really happy with what she’s seen, in terms of effort.

Now she just needs to see who will be the key contributors.

“This is a new team at Fels High School,” Bowman said. “We are looking forward to building a strong and talented team.

“This year we will create a team full of leaders and women who are dedicated to succeed as a team. We will set high goals for our organization. By doing so, we will create teamwork, girls working together for a common good. I am excited to watch us grow as a team with confidence and determination.”